As President Obama reflects on his trip to Arizona on Jan. 25, he has some soul searching to do. In recent months, the President has displayed a schizophrenic approach to immigration as he attempts to straddle impossible opposites. He gives lip service to legalization but doubles down behind policies that criminalize. The Department of Homeland Security, headed by Arizona’s former Governor, has made conscripting states into immigration enforcement a centerpiece strategy while the Department of Justice sues states for usurping federal authority. Within the white house, it would seem that constitutional rights and discriminatory deportation programs are in a tug of war.

Nowhere else in the country is this disconnect more clear than in Arizona.

Since 2010 Arizona has earned ill-gained fame and became synonymous for family separating anti-immigrant policies due to SB 1070 and the subsequent Department of Justice lawsuit. However, while the DOJ challenged the state’s immigration enforcement policy, the Department of Homeland Security was strengthening its agreements with Sheriff Arpaio to implement nearly the same content of the state bill through federal immigration programs. Looking closer at the relationship with Sheriff Arpaio is where real lessons can be learned.

The DOJ investigation into the office of the Maricopa County Sheriff was an indictment not just of the Sheriff but of the federal immigration programs that gave him his legal authority and political incentive to scapegoats immigrants. When the President reflects on Arizona, he must resolve to terminate the programs that made Sheriff Arpaio’s illegal racial profiling possible.

The President has made recent strides on immigration but his work is still undone. Until DHS suspends Secure Communities in the state and stops collaborating with the Maricopa County Sheriff, it’s partnership in Arizona and its national policies will continue to create a civil rights crisis that the Department of Justice will subsequently be required to clean up.

– Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network
(published at

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